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Fans swoop for Leonard Cohen books, but which one to buy?

Sold for $2,000 by Raptis Rare Books, Palm Beach, Florida – this first edition of Leonard Cohen’s debut novel, The Favourite Game

Fans of Leonard Cohen have been converging on AbeBooks.com since the news of his death, searching for books from the Canadian singer-songwriter’s original career as a poet and an author.

It appears many fans are unsure which book to buy as the most popular search term on AbeBooks since Cohen’s death has been simply “Leonard Cohen.” This isn’t entirely unexpected as Cohen’s writing was mostly published in the 1950s and 1960s, and has been overshadowed by his musical influence. He shifted into music in 1967.

beautiful-losers-by-leonard-cohenBeautiful Losers, Cohen’s second and final novel, is currently the bestselling book on AbeBooks. It was published in 1966 and the plot is set in Quebec, Cohen’s home province. It’s a love triangle written in a complex way featuring all sorts of 1960s symbolism and ample sex that made it rather controversial at the time.  This book is sometimes credited with introducing Canadian literature to post-modernism as the story lacks a coherent timeline and does not follow the traditional structure of a novel.

Book of Longing is our second bestselling book since Cohen’s death and this comes from the other end of Cohen’s career. Published in 2006, this collection of poems was Cohen’s first poetry since Book of Mercy, which was published in 1984.

Fans of Cohen’s writing are also purchasing Let Us Compare Mythologies, the author’s the first poetry book, which was published shortly after he left Montreal’s McGill University in 1956. Only 400 first edition copies were printed and just three copies are available via AbeBooks at prices in excess of $10,000. A new edition was reprinted in 2007.

The most expensive Cohen book to sell since his death is a signed first edition of The Favourite Game, published in 1963, which sold for $2,000. Raptis Rare Books from Palm Beach, Florida, made the sale. Cohen wrote the novel while living in London and Greece, and it’s semi-autobiographical in nature.

One of the oddest Cohen items being offered for sale is his Westmount High School yearbook, Vox Ducum, published in 1951.  The graduating student’s bio includes:

PASTIME: Leading sing-songs at intermission

AMBITION: World Famous Orator

The yearbook reveals Cohen was president of the student council and very active. He starred as Julius Caesar in a production of Death of Julius Caesar and was the producer of another show, God Save The King. The seller is offering the book at $3,500.

Leonard Cohen’s Westmount High yearbook from 1951


The Strange Story of the Sea Monk

The Sea Monk as shown Pierre Belon’s De Aquatilibus

In the middle of the 16th century, a strange creature was found off the coast of Denmark.  No-one is quite sure how the discovery came about or how it came to be debated by Europe’s brightest thinkers. But what followed was a combination of Chinese (or Danish) whispers combined with the Renaissance version an urban (or maritime) myth.

The result was the birth of the sea monk legend.

At this time, the world and its wide range of wildlife was opening up to explorers and also naturalists eager to document these exciting new discoveries. There was such a market for books about natural history that authors were unconcerned about not actually seeing the creatures they were describing.

An illustration of the sea monk from De Natura Aqualtilium Carmen by Francois Boussuet

The sea monk looked like a monk that had just washed up on the shore. Half man, half fish, entirely sea monster. Sounds like a wonderful way of selling books.

Three legendary natural historians took the plunge and documented this marine cleric. Pierre Belon wrote about the sea monk in 1553 and then Guillaume Rondelet a year later. Swiss naturalist Conrad Gesner included it in Historiae Animalium, one of the first books on modern zoology. Although Gesner’s book was a serious attempt at recording the natural world, be aware the unicorn does make an appearance. Gesner’s interpretation of the rhino was copied straight from Durer’s famous woodcut, which in turn had been inspired by a sketch by someone else.

A later account said the sea monk had “a human head and face, resembling in appearance the men with shorn heads, whom we call monks because of their solitary life; but the appearance of its lower parts, bearing a coating of scales, barely indicated the torn and severed limbs and joints of the human body. At the order of the king this abominable creature was immediately buried in the ground, in order that it should not, as the new and unusual generally does, provide a fertile subject for offensive talk.”

Japetus Steenstrup, a 19th century Danish marine biologist, argued it was a giant squid. Others said it was a ‘Jenny Haniver’ – a dried out carcass of a ray or skate that looks like an evil gremlin. Another study says it was an angelshark. Sea monsters went on to become an important illustration tool for mapmakers, which only adds to the fun.

The sea monk debate continues today, which rather shows the influence of this particular legend.


Donald Trump vs Hillary Clinton – who wins in rare book sales?

Hillary Clinton’s Living History and Donad Trump’s The Art of the Deal

After the bookish glory of Barack Obama’s bid to become president in 2008, books have barely been mentioned during the battle between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. In 2008 and 2009, AbeBooks sold more 50 copies of books written by Obama for prices in excess of $1,000 – one signed copy of Dreams from my Father even sold for $12,500.

Both Trump and Hillary Clinton have written (or had ghost written for them in Trump’s case) books but neither particularly appeal to collectors looking to own a small piece of political history.

Trump versus Clinton. Who wins on expensive sales? Hillary Just…

The Art of the Deal by Donald Trump – sold for $1,399

A signed first edition from 1987, purchased in March 2016.

Living History by Hillary Clinton – sold for $1,575

One of 1,500 signed copies, purchased in August 2016.

So how do Trump and Clinton compare to past presidents? Not well…

With the American election less than a week away, collectors are more interested in items from presidents whose legacies are assured.

This week a document (see below) signed by John F. Kennedy and his brother Robert on June 28, 1961 sold for $11,400 on AbeBooks. The humble document confirmed the appointment of a certain Harry C. George Marshall as a marshal in Eastern Illinois. Signed copies of JFK’s Profiles in Courage have sold for $4,000 and $6,000 in the past.

A document signed by JFK and his brother Robert Kennedy

An American Life by Ronald Reagan – sold for $6,325

Leather-bound special edition of Reagan’s autobiography, including photos, cassette and stamped with the presidential seal.

The Rough Riders by Theodore Roosevelt – sold for $8,250

A signed first edition of Roosevelt’s account of his experiences as colonel of the US cavalry, the ‘Rough Riders’, during the Spanish American War.  Another signed first of this book sold for $8,125.

A lottery ticket signed by George Washington – sold for $9,000

Anything signed by Washington is collectible.

The Road to Justice: Three Major Statements on Civil Rights by Lyndon B. Johnson – sold for $3,750
A 55-page pamphlet published in 1965 including “The American Promise”, “To Fulfill These Rights”, and “The Doors Open”.  This copy was signed by Johnson to author Leo Rosten.


Discover how Brazil looked in 1840 thanks to this historic print

The view of Salvador around 1840

A beautiful piece of panoramic artwork displaying an historic view of Salvador in Brazil’s Bahia state has sold for $8,000 on AbeBooks. This revealing print, created around 1840, shows how the city looked in the middle of the 19th century. Today, Salvador has a population of well over two million people and skyscrapers dominate its coastline, but in 1840 the landscape featured trees and green space, and was dotted with white colonial-style buildings, ranging from homes to churches.

The picture is credited to Johann (or João) Steinmann, a Swiss artist, who was hired by the Brazilian Government in 1825 to work as its official lithographer, which is a printmaker. He continued to capture dramatic views of Brazil on his own account after the conclusion of his contract with the Government. He returned to Europe in 1833 and published a book called Souvenirs de Rio de Janeiro.

The print is a hand-colored aquatint, 197 mm x 1000 mm, and a close-up of the centre section can be seen below.

Underneath the print, the main buildings portrayed are identified as Eglise de la Conception, Le Palais, Maison de L’Opera, Convent des Benedictines, Eglise St. Pierre, Convent Jerusalem, Consul de Hamburg, Eglise des Affites, Consult Anglais, Consul Francois, Jardin public, Fort Gamboa (Forte de Sao Paulo da Gamboa), and S. Victoire.

Bahia is a state located north of Rio de Janeiro. The first European to reach Salvador was Gaspar de Lemos, a Portuguese explorer, in 1501. The city was originally established as a fortress called São Salvador da Bahia de Todos os Santos (Holy Savior of the Bay of All Saints) in 1549 by Portuguese settlers.

Salvador is one of the oldest cities founded by Europeans in the Americas and it served as Brazil’s first capital, soon becoming a major commercial port.

A close-up of a section of the Salvador print

Today, the Salvador coastline looks like this (see below) with skyscrapers filling the Vitória neighborhood.

Modern Salvador seen from the sea (Photo credit: Flickr/Avinash Achar)

See the 1840 print on Flickr (good if you have a large screen).


Interview with BargainBookStores

The team at BargainBookStores in Grand Rapids, Michigan

BargainBookStores have sold with AbeBooks since January 2002 and currently list more than 800,000 books for sale on our marketplace. Co-owner Ralf Scharnowski took a few minutes to answer our questions about life as a marketplace bookseller.

AbeBooks: How did your business start?

Ralf Scharnowski: “On a Lake Michigan beach. My family was vacationing with friends, one of whom owned chain of retail Bargain Book shops.  That gentlemen became my business partner.  He had book industry experience and I had the skills to get us online.”

AbeBooks: Describe your business model? We are particularly interested to hear where your books come from.

Ralf Scharnowski: “We started our business in 2001 by buying remainder and out-of-print books from publishers. Over the years we started adding new books and audio books to our inventory. Today we are solely focused on new books and work closely with publishers and distributors.  We’re especially proud of our relationships with a handful of local Grand Rapids Michigan based publishers.”

AbeBooks: Describe your warehouse and what goes on inside? It looks like a major operation.

Ralf Scharnowski: “We are located in Grand Rapids Michigan. Our 20,000 sq. ft. facility is home to our team of 12 employees. We stock about 300,000 books and our production team ships more than 4000 orders per day during peak times. Our office staff includes customer service and supplier management teams.  Focusing on a great customer experience is our priority.

AbeBooks: Aside from your presence on AbeBooks, how do you use technology in your business?

Ralf Scharnowski: “While our passion is books, we wouldn’t be selling books without technology. Selling online requires technology to run almost all parts of our business.  Technology allows us to synchronize online listings with our warehouse inventory.  Software tools help us offer competitive pricing and ensure that your order ships on time.   The list goes on and our software is constantly changing to keep up with the online world.”

The warehouse at BargainBookStores

AbeBooks: How has your business evolved over the past 15 years?

Ralf Scharnowski: “In 2001, we started as a two-person operation with about a thousand books. We were happy to see 20 orders per day.  Over the last 15 years we’ve grow in many ways. Our inventory has expanded. We’ve shifted from remainder books to new books and we now have 12 team members.  Online book prices continue to be more and more competitive.  To compete, we’ve had to find ways to be more efficient. Software has played a big part, but we’ve also had lots of help from our team.  By working smarter, we can now ship out 2-3 times more books per employee than was possible five years ago.”

AbeBooks: What is the main challenge faced by your business?

Ralf Scharnowski: “Ensuring we remain price competitive in a hyper competitive online book marketplace. We also focus on exceeding changing customer expectations. Today’s customers want lower prices and faster service.  We want to make sure we succeed at providing both.”

AbeBooks: What’s the most exciting aspect of what you do?”

Ralf Scharnowski:“It’s rewarding to see positive customer feedback. Our entire team works hard to ensure our customers are happy.. It’s nice to get confirmation when we succeed.”

Search for books from BargainBookStores


Don’t miss the Chicago Map Fair

The fourth annual Chicago Map Fair takes place this weekend. It opens at 5pm on Friday 28 October with a preview and runs through 30 October with doors opening at 10am on Saturday and Sunday. A host of specialist sellers will be offering collectible antique maps, atlases, prints and globes covering all the regions of the world (and also the heavens).

Sunday is Family Day and the History in Your Hands Foundation will have a booth with fun activities for the kids.

At 12 noon on Sunday, there’s also a lecture called ‘What’s My Map Worth? How to Value Antique Maps’ by guest speaker Eliane Dotson who will share the secrets of the rare map trade.

You will find the show at the Chicago Cultural Center on 78 E Washington St. Tickets are free for Saturday and Sunday with a $5 suggested donation at the door for History In Your Hands.

Browse Collections of maps


6 horror classics curated by Guillermo del Toro

Fall is in full force at AbeBooks HQ. The days are dark and dreary and the sidewalks are littered with leaves. For some that means pumpkin spice everything, but for book lovers it means dusting off tales from the crypt. In 2013 fantasy film director and writer Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth) partnered with Penguin to curate a collection of six classic horror books, including Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven. The hardcover books include a forward by del Toro and feature neon cover artwork and black-edged pages – the perfect spooky addition to any collection.

1. The Haunted Castle by Ray Russell

Haunted Castles by Ray Russell

2. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

3. The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe

The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe

4. American Supernatural Tales by S.T. Joshi

American Supernatural Tales by S.T. Joshi

5. The Thing on the Doorstep by H.P. Lovecraft

The Thing on the Doorstep by H.P. Lovecraft

5. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

What are your favorite spooky reads?


Discovering Skeletons in the Attic – mystery author Judy Penz Sheluk on unraveling family secrets

Author Judy Penz Sheluk

Crime writer Judy Penz Sheluk is back with a new mystery novel called Skeletons in the Attic. Her debut novel, The Hanged Man’s Noose, was published in July 2015. Skeletons in the Attic is the first book in what is going to be the Marketville Mystery Series.

The heroine of Skeletons is Calamity (Callie) Barnstable who learns she’s the sole beneficiary of her late father’s estate and discovers she has inherited a house in the town of Marketville – a house she didn’t know existed. However, there are conditions attached to Callie’s inheritance: she must move to Marketville, live in the house, and solve her mother’s murder. It’s a story of family secrets.

Judy took a few minutes to answer our questions.

Skeletons in the Attic by Judy Penz Sheluk

AbeBooks: Skeletons in the Attic is an apt name as it concerns family secrets – all families have secrets and surprises but how did you keep it credible?

Judy Penz Sheluk: “The condition of Callie’s inheritance is to find out what happened to her mother thirty years before, a mother she believed had left her and her father for “the milkman or some other male equivalent.” As she digs through her mother’s belongings in the attic of the house, she comes across several items, some that provide clues, and some that just bring back memories long suppressed. I tried to think of the sort of things I might have put in a trunk in 1986. There’s a sweatshirt from John Cougar Mellencamp’s ‘Scarecrow’ tour, and a mother-and-daughter set of leotard and leg warmers that remind Callie of doing Jane Fonda’s aerobic workout with her mom. There’s also a marriage certificate and a photo album. If we look at old photos, there’s a lot we can learn from them. In Callie’s case, the album and other belongings provide insight into a mother she barely remembers.”

AbeBooks: Tell us a little about the hero, Calamity Barnstable.  Would she remind us of anyone?

Judy Penz Sheluk: “Until she took the assignment to find out what happened with her mother 30 years earlier, Callie (named after Calamity Jane) worked in the fraud unit of a bank’s call center. She’s 36, independent, somewhat jaded, and single with what she calls ‘loser radar’ when it comes to men (her last boyfriend dumped her on Valentine’s Day; Callie was expecting an engagement ring). She wasn’t patterned after anyone in particular, though of course she has some of my quirks. For example, she’s addicted to cocoa butter lip balm. I buy the Body Shop’s cocoa butter lip balm six tubes at a time. I have them everywhere: purse, office, bedside table, living room.”

AbeBooks: And the book is set in Marketville – what sort of small town is this one?

Judy Penz Sheluk: “Marketville is a commuter town located about an hour north of Toronto. Callie describes it as the sort of place where families with two kids, a collie, and a cat moved to looking for a bigger house, a better school, and soccer fields. The town is very loosely based on Newmarket, Ontario, where I used to live, but I have taken great liberties with the location, and the characters are completely fictional.”

AbeBooks: The book is the first in a series – how many books will follow and will they all be set in the same place?

Judy Penz Sheluk: “I’m currently working on the second book, but it’s very early days. This book will go back thirty years to tell Abigail’s (Callie’s mother) story. I haven’t looked beyond book two, but the hope is always that the series is successful enough to support additional novels.”

AbeBooks: What’s your style for writing? A couple of hours at a time, late night sessions, rigid schedule?

Judy Penz Sheluk: “I try to write a chapter a day when I’m working on a novel. The time of day totally varies on the rest of my life. I’m still working as the Senior Editor of New England Antiques Journal, a monthly antiques magazine based out of Massachusetts. I’m also the Editor of Home BUILDER Magazine, a bi-monthly magazine based out of Quebec. But I’m probably the most creative mid morning to mid afternoon. I might jot down a note or two at night if something comes to me, but I’m not a nighttime writer. Early mornings I tend to deal with social media and promotion.”

AbeBooks: How did it go with The Hanged Man’s Noose? Your book from 2015.

Judy Penz Sheluk: “The Hanged Man’s Noose was my first book. It has been very well received and garnered some great reviews. I’m just about finished the sequel and it’s been fun going back to Arabella Carpenter and Emily Garland. The style of writing (third person, multiple points of view) is quite different from Skeletons (first person). What has been exciting is that the success of Skeletons has brought new readers to Noose. I’m very grateful.”

Here is a short excerpt from Skeletons in the Attic.

Leith Hampton placed the will in front of him, smoothing an invisible crease with a well-manicured hand, the nails showing evidence of a vigorous buffing. I wondered what kind of man went in for a mani-pedi—I was surmising on the pedi—and decided it was the kind of man who billed his services out for five hundred dollars an hour.

He cleared his throat and stared at me with those intense blue eyes. “Are you sure you’re ready, Calamity? I know how close you were to your father.”

I flinched at the Calamity. Folks called me Callie or they didn’t call me at all. Only my dad had been allowed to call me Calamity, and even then only when he was seriously annoyed with me, and never in public. It was a deal we’d made back in elementary school. Kids can be cruel enough without the added incentive of a name like Calamity.

As for being ready, I’d been ready for the past ninety-plus minutes. I’d been ready since I first got the call telling me my father had been involved in an unfortunate occupational accident. That’s how the detached voice on the other end of the phone had put it. An unfortunate occupational accident.

I knew at some point I’d have to face the fact that my dad wasn’t coming back, that we’d never again argue over politics or share a laugh while watching an episode of The Big Bang Theory. Knew that one day I’d sit down and have a good long cry, but right now wasn’t the time, and this certainly wasn’t the place. I’d long ago learned to store my feelings into carefully constructed compartments. I leveled Leith with a dry-eyed stare and nodded.

“I’m ready.”

Learn more about Judy at her website.


‘Are we downhearted?’ Rare artwork from WWI POW magazine goes on sale

Artwork from an Alice in Wonderland parody in the Ruhleben prison camp magazine

A rare collection of original artwork published in a prison camp magazine by British World War I POWs has been listed for sale on AbeBooks.

Approximately, 5,000 Britons who were living in or visiting Germany at the outbreak of World War I in 1914 were interned in a detention camp located on a horse racing track in a Berlin suburb called Ruhleben. The prisoner activities at the Ruhleben Internment Camp are a glorious example of British fortitude in the face of challenging circumstances.

An illustration from the camp magazine

The civilians – ranging from merchant sailors trapped in Hamburg to professional footballers, experienced musicians and future Nobel Prize-winning scientist James Chadwick – banded together to create a thriving miniature version of Britain behind the barbed wire.

The activities included gardening via a vibrant horticultural society that became affiliated to the Royal Horticultural Society, an orchestra, theater productions with opera and pantomime shows, golf via the construction of a five-hole course, and clubs for rugby, cricket, soccer and boxing.

An illustration from the Ruhleben camp magazine

There was also a library and a printing press, which became a valuable outlet for writers and artists.

The first issue of the camp magazine was published on June 6, 1915. Ten issues were published that year, featuring a mix of camp news, gossip and results of sporting events, mixed with satirical literature, poetry and humorous fake adverts called ‘Ruhlebertisents.’ Five issues were published in 1916 and a final issue was printed in June 1917.

The collection of magazine artwork has been assembled into two albums called The Lighter Side of Lager Life and it appears to have been a mock-up for London publishing firm, George Newnes. Each album is addressed to J. S. Boot, an editor at the firm.

A colorful illustration from the prisoners

The first album, dated June 1, 1917, contains the following introduction:

“With a few exceptions the contents of this book have already appeared in the pages of the Ruhleben Camp Magazine; it is hoped that they will find favour with readers in England, to whom Ruhleben is a name only. ‘Lager Life’ is not conducive to merriment, but the aim of the Magazine has always been to keep a smiling journalistic countenance. ‘Are we downhearted?’ was a phrase that was often heard in Ruhleben during the winter of 1914, and the answer without exception was ‘No’. It was in order to perpetuate this spirit that the articles and sketches which follow were planned, and though meant originally for interned readers they may serve to show others that the spirit of cheerfulness was kept alive in the confines of Ruhleben.”

The clippings are humorous and revealing. There is a drawing of a prisoner in his bunk that is probably a realistic interpretation of the cramped sleeping quarters inside the stables at the former race course. There is a gentle image of an envisioned escape via a rope thrown over a low cloud. In another illustration, a court jester on a donkey jumps the wire.

There is a parody of Alice through the Looking Glass, called Alice through the Lager Glass.

“She found herself standing on a flat square plot of ground, enclosed by buildings, offices and stables; a gateway to the right led to a row of wooden Barracks. In the doorway of a small building marked ‘Captain’s Office’ a solemn man stood smoking. In the middle the square (which Alice found afterwards was known as Trafalgar Square) stood a tall electric lamp standard, at the foot of which grew some tulips and daffodils. Outside the boundary of the Compound ran a railway.”

The two albums are priced at$12,000 and offered for sale by Donald A Heald Rare Books in New York.

See Donald’s listing.

See more of the artwork on Flickr

A very gentle method of escape

An Englishman’s home… in the stables


Introducing INK LDN: London’s latest book fair

Two Temple Place, venue for INK LDN

There’s a new book fair in town… or least in London. INK LDN is a brand new international antiquarian book and art fair that takes place on October 21 and 22 at 2 Temple Place on the Embankment.

The brainchild of London-based antiquarian booksellers Ines Bellin and Leo Cadogan, and sponsored by AbeBooks.co.uk, INK LDN brings together dealers offering rare books, art, photography and manuscripts.

The Fair will focus on exhibitors offering exclusive items. “We don’t want dealers with 12 first editions of Ulysses,” said Ines Bellin. “We are emphasizing quality over quantity. INK LDN will be a sophisticated, elegant book fair.”

The venue is a magnificent building built by newspaper and property magnate William Waldorf Astor that still boasts beautiful artwork, and opulent décor. It’s where Downton Abbey filmed the marriage of Lady Rose and Atticus Aldrige.

You will find 2 Temple Place at London, WC2R 3BD. Admission is £10. The opening hours are Friday 21st October, 11am-7pm, and Saturday 22nd October, 11am-3pm. The nearest Tube station is Temple on the District and Circle lines.

Numerous sellers who use the AbeBooks marketplace will be present at INK LDN, including Peter Harrington, Bernard Quaritch, Maggs Bros, Shapero Rare Books, Sophia Rare Books from Denmark, and Libreria Alberto Govi di Fabrizio Govi from Italy.

INK LDN is staging a charity dinner is in aid of the London Library on 19 October at 7pm, at The Crypt at St Etheldreda’s, 14 Ely Place, London EC1N 8SJ.  There is also a champagne reception and preview on 20 October starting at 5pm at 2 Temple Place.

Visit the INK LDN website for more information and tickets.

One of the booksellers who will be attending INK LDN is Abby Schoolman from New York, who specializes in art bookbindings and artist’s books. Abby was kind enough to answer some questions about her line of work.

Bookseller Abby Schoolman

AbeBooks: Tell us about your business?

Abby Schoolman: “There are five incredibly talented artists with whom I work with exclusively. Whatever they make, I sell. I also include in my inventory a number of specially selected books by other talented bookbinders and book artists.”

AbeBooks: How did you get started in the bookselling business?

Abby Schoolman: “I was trained as an archivist and rare book librarian. In early 2000, while working for a historical society in New York, I was recruited by Bauman Rare Books to work in its then brand new Madison Avenue gallery. I jumped at the chance. For over 14 years, I worked with five centuries of the most interesting and beautiful books in almost every field of human thought. It was heaven.

“A few days before I started working for Bauman, I stumbled across an exhibit of contemporary bindings of books on angling at the American Museum of Natural History. For the first time in my life, I bought an exhibition catalog. Little did I know that, many years later, buying exhibition catalogs of contemporary bookbinding exhibits from the mid-20th century to the present would become my obsession.

“One thing I had often discussed was the lack of information available on the great contemporary binders of the Americas. Who were they and where? My French is terrible and I don’t speak Spanish or Portuguese. The Internet is pretty useless where art bookbinding is concerned. I started haunting The Strand‘s ‘on Books’ aisle and the Oak Knoll website for books and catalogs about modern binding. With those first few gems I picked up at The Strand, I started a blog, American Bound. It was just for fun. I had no idea where it would lead. I studied the work of and met so many wonderful bookbinders and book artists while writing my blog. A year later, I decided to go out on my own, do consulting work in the trade, and try to figure out how to create my dream job: selling art bookbindings and artist’s books made by living artists.

“Almost immediately, the strangest thing happened. A binding I had posted as part of one of my (then) weekly blog entries was purchased by a dealer. He is someone I know well. He sent me an email asking for the contact information for the binder. I didn’t know her personally, but her contact information was in the exhibition catalog in which I had seen the binding. I passed it along. The binder, Malina Belcheva of Chicago, sold the book (which is now in the book arts collection of the Boston Athenaeum) and asked me to be her agent. I quickly asked three of my favorite art binders if they would work with me. They all said yes. I was amazed that Christine Giard (France), Sonya Sheats (USA), and Mark Cockram (UK) would want to work with someone just starting out in their field. I started my business with all the bindings these four artists could send me.

“Less than a year later I took on a few books from Timothy C. Ely. He had worked with many great book arts booksellers such as Ursus Books, Granary Books, and the late Toni Zwicker, and many art galleries. Ely, in my opinion, is one of the greatest living book artists. For just over a year, I have had the great honor of being Ely’s sole bookseller. I recently published a book on eight of his most recently completed works. It’s called Timothy C. Ely: 8 Books. I call it a book, but really it is a bookseller’s catalog that got way, way out of hand: 58 pages on just eight books.”

One of Abby’s Timothy C. Ely books, called Gamma Cruxis

AbeBooks: You work closely with artists – what is that process like?

Abby Schoolman: “Mostly, I stay out of their way. I want them to make whatever they want, in whatever format or medium they choose, regardless of what they have made or sold in the past. The freedom to choose, and the freedom from the constraints of set book competitions, juried exhibitions, and traditional expectations allows the artists breathing space. The result is better art.

“My role as agent and bookseller for my five principal artists varies greatly based on individual needs or projects. Sometimes I am a sounding board for ideas, sometimes a safe space for venting frustration, sometimes I am a student learning about structure or technique or obscure bookbinder lore, sometimes I gently give deadlines by providing a list of dates of upcoming book and art fairs. For some I write or edit documents. I also try to hustle on the behalf of those artists who wish to line up lectures, workshops, or other gigs. Often I listen to their ideas for bookselling; some of my artists have been in the book business for far longer than I, though from a different angle.”

AbeBooks: What is the most prized item in your inventory?

Abby Schoolman: “Timothy Ely’s unique manuscript and binding Bones of the Book: An Oblong Identity is a masterpiece. There is simply no other way to look at it. It’s huge (44.5cm x 30cm x 3.5cm), very personal and, even for Ely, incredibly complex in scope. It is special in many ways, not least because it took him 25 years to complete. The title page says 1990 and it was exhibited. He didn’t sell it. Sometimes he showed it, but the truth is that it just didn’t feel finished to him. In 2015, he removed the original binding (now in the Ely archives), worked more on the original pages, added pages, and rebound the book. It is now truly complete, spectacular, and will be at INK LDN.

Bones of a Book by Timothy C. Ely

“Bones of the Book is the second in a three-book series that differs significantly from Ely’s other art. These books are both biographical and autobiographical. Each honors the important influence of family members in Ely’s life, and combines it with an aspect of bookbinding—the format Ely has chosen to house his artwork throughout his career. In each case, there is also a third narrative that plays a significant role in Ely’s identity as an individual and as an artist.

“The series began with Binding the Book: The Flight Into Egypt in 1985. Egypt is about Ely’s grandfather, the journal he left behind about his mysterious trip to Egypt between the wars, bookbinding, and the geography of Egypt. For much more information, see The Flight into Egypt: Binding the Book. It’s out-of-print, but there are often copies available on AbeBooks.”

AbeBooks: Why do you support and participate in bookfairs?

Abby Schoolman: “I love book fairs. When I worked for Bauman Rare Books, I loved to select the books, travel to the fair venue, set up the showcases, and walk around gaping at all the books. It’s glorious to see the best, the most interesting, their weirdest, the most beautiful books and ephemera from all over the world just lined up for you to look at and hold. There’s a buzz and enthusiasm among the dealers who have carefully selected the sexiest items in their inventory. It’s not at all the same as visiting a bookshop.”

AbeBooks: What’s your favorite book?

Abby Schoolman: “I can answer that a number of different ways, but I’ll stick with the book arts: I have an unreasonable obsession with Paul Nash’s Genesis.”